MONSTER CAMP: Summer Sisters’ Sweet Skit

The Summer Sisters in MONSTER CAMP at Common Ground Theatre. Photo: Jenn Evans.

The Summer Sisters in MONSTER CAMP. Photo: Jenn Evans.

There’s this group–a tribe–a porous-bordered cell–of creative female performance artists in Durham who like to get together in the summer and work out their imaginations on a topic. Last year, Summer Sisters took on daughters and mothers with Alzheimer’s, working from Sarah Leavitt’s graphic journal Tangles: My Mother, Alzheimer’s and Me. This year, “gently led” by the fearless broad-thinking actors Rachel Klem and Tamara Kissane, they started with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a way to look at the monsters within and without, and examine the meaning of monstrosity in the psyche and in society. MONSTER CAMP opened at Common Ground Theatre Aug. 28.

The Summer Sisters take their discussions, soul-baring exercises and theatrical experiments as the raw material for their “devised” theatre. In MONSTER CAMP, there are readings, singing, movement, stories, stylized action sequences and one highly dramatic soliloquy (Dierdre Shipman). Each woman wears some version of yoga clothes, remarkable for the jagged red scars stitched here and there. Some of the songs and readings are rounds, with the voices overlapping and circling. In fact, the sense of spiraling deeper informs the entire show. One of the loveliest things about this show is the paradoxical double spiraling–out to the edges of ideas and aloneness, and deeper inward toward acceptance and connection.

But a show it is, with a rather adorable resemblance to skits at camp. There are some bits that don’t work as well as they might, but others that give a jolt of beauty or comprehension. Don’t expect much polish–this work is too fresh to need buffing up. Two more performances remain.

Dierdre Shipman in The Summer Sisters' MONSTER CAMP.  Photo: Jenn Evans.

Dierdre Shipman in The Summer Sisters’ MONSTER CAMP. Photo: Jenn Evans.

 

Fri, Sat, August 29, 30 at 8:00pm
Tickets: $15 (plus tax)-general admission
Reservations: (919) 384-7817
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/803833

A really late review and an almost-late preview of shows at Durham’s Common Ground Theatre

Two of the Triangle's energetic theatre artists, Katja Hill and Lormarev Jones, outside of Common Ground Theatre, which hosted ROUGH DRAFT. Photo: Rachel Klem.

Two of the Triangle’s energetic theatre artists, Katja Hill and Lormarev Jones, outside of Common Ground Theatre, which hosted ROUGH DRAFT. Photo: Rachel Klem.

ROUGH DRAFT: A Night of New Solos (Common Ground Theatre June 28-29, 2013)

Summer Sisters Presents TANGLES: My Mother, Alzheimer’s and Me (Common Ground Theatre, Aug. 29-31, 2013)

Durham’s theatre scene would be much the poorer had Rachel Klem not come to town. Subtle actress, incisive director, performance space owner and manager, producer, and general creative force, Klem, along with her husband Jeff Alguire (actor, designer, etc) have provided Durham with a small, flexible theatre in which all kinds of surprising and affecting work happens. In June, Common Ground made possible the presentation of works-in-progress by two extremely interesting actor-thinkers, who have written/are writing theater pieces taken directly from their own life experiences.

The monologue never has been my favorite mode of theater, but both DEBRIS, by Katja Hill, and THE VIRGIN COOKBOOK, by Lormarev Jones, were so engaging that I’m forced to reconsider my bias. After all, I’ve been thinking about their shows for two solid months, and still find them intriguing. Both women will be familiar to local theater-goers, and many will have seen Hill’s previous work about the trials and tribulations of becoming an actor. Jones, as far as I know, had not previously presented any of her own writing, but has enriched many productions with her intense presence and gorgeous voice.

Hill took on the universal themes of life, death and stuff. While the presentation left much to be desired (she sat at a table with a notebook, the table forming a barrier between her and the audience), the content was engrossing. Hill’s mother, a Finn who married an American, lived in Sylva, NC. Cancer attacked and advanced rapidly; Hill and her then-boyfriend barely got her back to Finland to die. With what seems to me amazing fortitude, Hill wove together her mother’s stories–her life, her romance, her cancer-on-a-credit-card, her work in the plant department at Walmart, her death and its aftermath–and laced them to her own stories with ribbons of wry humor, sorrow, joy and exasperation. Anyone who has dealt with the plethora of objects left behind by the beloved dead would have gotten the metaphors instantly, but for anyone who hadn’t, Hill had a selection of stuff you just don’t know what the hell to do with for show and tell–and a telling costume. Hill’s a lovely blonde with a natural elegance which she almost disguised in grubby pants, a Walmart employee T-shirt (store number on the back) and a Nordic girl wig with long blonde braids, sloppily covered by a kerchief. Looking a bit like orphan Cinderella in the ashes, she unreeled the silk of a lifetime, opening its twist for us to see the strands, uneven but knotless. Lives are plied together like yarn. Mother’s strand, father’s strand; a third ply for daughter. Mother’s strand attenuates, leaving a snarl of broken fiber, but the spinner picks up another strand–the boyfriend, now the husband, is spun into the twist during the course of the story.

It takes a brave heart and a clear mind to formulate and present art like this, so close to the bone, seesawing between personal sentiment and universal feeling in a delicately balanced spiraling structure. Be on the lookout for DEBRIS when it falls on us again, sparkling like a diamond its own dust.

Lormarev Jones’ THE VIRGIN COOKBOOK was not as highly developed as Hill’s work, but rather more surprising. Maybe 30-year-old sexual virgins are not as rare as I think, but I am sure that there are not many who will get up on stage and tell you all about it. Jones retails some hilarious anecdotes about her upbringing: her mother worked with AIDS patients during the early awful years of the epidemic, when they were all dying. Determined that her children would not die for lack of knowledge, she made sure little Lormarev was informed far beyond the norm for her age group. On top of that, Jones’ grandfather, with whom she lived part of the time, encouraged her in no uncertain terms not to waste her time on boys. On top of that, Jones attended college at Meredith, the Baptist women’s school in Raleigh. The upshot is–she’s a virgin, and pretty much all her acquaintance gives her grief about the fact. Currently, Jones is working toward an MFA in theatre from Sarah Lawrence, and is planning to fully develop THE VIRGIN COOKBOOK as her capstone project for the degree.

In June, it was still rather rough, although the scenes in which she plays her own grandfather were beautifully realized. Jones’ tends to look down while she speaks, breaking eye contact with the audience, which diminishes her strength, but it flares up immediately when she raises her implacable virgin’s eye. She makes a lot of jokes, and never brings up the power ascribed through history to the virgin woman, but this show certainly makes you think about it. There’s a lot to be said in favor of experience, but you can always get that. You can’t ever retrieve innocence, and to have held onto it for 30 years strikes me as somewhat of a modern miracle. This is another show to look for in its next iteration.

And beginning tonight, for three nights only…

13 of the Triangle’s talented women of theatre have gotten together to workshop a piece of performance art based on Sarah Leavitt’s graphic journal TANGLES: MY MOTHER, ALZHEIMER’S AND ME. These “Summer Sisters” are year-round fearless. They take on loving, aging, loving, family, care-giving and did I mention loving even through the forgetting?

Once again, the real live art is at Common Ground. Shows at 8 pm, Aug. 29, 30, 31. $10. Part of the proceeds will go to benefit Alzheimer’s North Carolina.

Reservations: (919) 698-3870 or tickets at the door.

Love Life More with Ghost & Spice’s HAROLD AND MAUDE

Ghost & Spice Productions’ Harold and Maude at Common Ground Theatre. Photo courtesty of Ghost & Spice.

I’ve been putting off writing this review, because it is the last review I’ll have the opportunity to write about a Ghost & Spice production, and I can hardly stand it. Last call, folks. The “small but mighty” company that has brought out two choice plays a year for 11 years will cease production at the end of this run. With their typical flair, the members chose Harold and Maude to go out on. Like Maude, they’ve chosen their time. Like Harold—I’m counting on this—the actors/directors/musicians who have formed Ghost & Spice’s tight creative cell will reappear in all their zesty talent in other local productions. In the meantime, there’s this hilarious, heart-full, play directed by Rachel Klem going on out at Common Ground Theatre through October 13.

Harold and Maude was written by Colin Higgins first as a screenplay, then it became a novel to go along with the 1971 film; in 1980 he published a stage play version. The movie did not do well at first, nor did the play. The unusual love story of faux-suicidal young Harold, living with his rich L.A. mother and despairing of life, and almost-80 Maude, who lives every day with all her senses, has over the years developed an audience, and really, it is a jewel.

Ishai Buchbinder and Joan Darling in Harold and Maude. Photo courtesy of Ghost & Spice.

With Joan Darling in the Maude role, doing acting that never for a second seems like acting, and everyone rising to meet her standard, Klem must have had a wonderful time staging this endearing script. On opening night (9/28), all were word-perfect, and Ishai Buchbinder as Harold was remarkable (I particularly loved the tree-liberating scene). As usual, Klem’s pacing was excellent, allowing enough space for emotions to be felt, while moving the action briskly along. All the comic timing was great—and there are many comic moments along with the tender ones. If this production doesn’t inspire you to get more out of life, you may be already dead yourself.

Quite a bit of the comedy was supplied by Melissa Lozoff as Harold’s mother, Mrs. Chasen. The character is an over-heated piece of work, and Lozoff nearly goes over the top with her—but not quite. Desperate to get Harold out of the house and going in life, rather than cooking up schemes to make himself appear mutilated or dead, she sets him up with three dates from a computer dating service. The dates are all played by Raven Whisnant (wigs!), who between times croons the songs studding the show, along with music meister Rus Hames. (They play in a little room behind a large window, separated from the action, but visible to the actors, and us. It is a clever touch, making the musicians into overwatching spirits.) Whisnant was very good as the three wildly different dates, but when she was singing, I had a hard time taking my eyes off her face to watch the action.

The cast is rounded out by the redoubtable John Murphy as the uncle/the priest, wide-ranging Jeff Alguire as the baffled cop/the sexually available psychiatrist, and Amanda Hahn as Mrs. Chasen’s maid. Hahn marches around taking care of the Chasens—her only speech consists of multiple screams and a stuttered “but…” Each time she comes and goes without a word, she seems to get bigger and more powerful.

Rachel Klem, who is also the managing director of G & S and of Common Ground Theatre, says tickets for the remaining shows are going fast. If you want to say your goodbyes to Ghost & Spice in person, don’t dally.

Joan Darling and Ishai Buchbinder as Maude and Harold. Photo courtesy Ghost & Spice.

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